Pete’s musical excursions over the years have ranged from cutting-edge to tradition-based. Click on names in the box or any image for information on each band.
Hot Rize celebrated its 40th anniversary in January 2018 with four concerts in Boulder, Colorado, where the band started. The concerts included guests Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush, and Stuart Duncan, and were recorded for audio and video release.
Hot Rize’s award-winning performances are a combination of traditional and contemporary bluegrass and the mysterious but amusing appearance of a retro-Western outfit known as Red Knuckles & the Trailblazers. The zany foursome delivers unbelievable yet believable versions of country and western classics in the style of Hank WIlliams and Bob Wills. Together the two bands have been winning audiences’ hearts for decades.
The bluegrass quartet toured and recorded full-time for 12 years from 1978 -1990, scaling back to several performances a year until the 1999 passing of founding member Charles Sawtelle. Hot Rize resumed performing in 2002, adding Nashville guitar ace Bryan Sutton in 2002 to join long-term members Tim O’Brien, Nick Forster, and Pete Wernick — who first delivered the unique Hot Rize sound together with Sawtelle in 1978.
Individually and collectively, Hot Rize represents a far-reaching set of talents including national radio host (Forster), Grammy-winning Americana icon (O’Brien), bluegrass’ foremost teacher (Wernick) and bluegrass’ most-awarded guitarist (Sutton). Its longevity spans more than half of the history of bluegrass music, having played in virtually every state, four continents– on TV, radio, and at festivals worldwide.
There is no band like Hot Rize!
For more information on the band’s members, history, and schedule, visit hotrize.com, the band’s official web site.
Pete receives IBMA Distinguished Achievement Award at the World of Bluegrass Sept./Oct. in Nashville. Hot Rize bandmate Tim O’Brien presented the plaque for his “integral role in the wide world of Bluegrass.”
Hot Rize’s live album, So Long of a Journey
Hot Rize’s album, “So Long of a Journey”, has garnered high acclaim. It was selected by County Sales as “Best Traditional Bluegrass Recording of 2002,” and won enthusiastic praise in Billboard, Bluegrass Unlimited, and many more.
CLICK HERE for reviews of this CD
Both the music and the package are unique, with many photos and heartfelt messages from Tim, Pete, and Nick. Nineteen music cuts in all, including some never recorded by the band, and many favorites from throughout Hot Rize’s three-decade history. This is Pete’s favorite Hot Rize record!
For booking info:
Keith Case and Associates, Nashville TN 615-327-4646
VISIT WWW.HOTRIZE.COM for more on the band!
Pete Wernick & FLEXIGRASS is a supercharged blend of bluegrass with classic jazz and “Dr. Banjo” originals. The all-star group blazes new trails everywhere they play, as vibraphone master Greg Harris and hot clarinetist Bill Pontarelli trade licks with Wernick and the band’s tight arrangements provide many surprises. Joan Wernick’s sparkling vocals range from soulful bluegrass to stylish jazz and Kris Ditson (drums) and Roger Johns (bass) provide a strong pulse that doesn’t overpower, but pops and sizzles!
Surprising traditionalists is nothing new to bluegrass Grammy-nominated Wernick. The Hot Rize banjoist and 15-year president of the International Bluegrass Music Association is “among the most creative and just plain fun musicians in (blue, new, jazz) grass” according to Bluegrass Unlimited magazine.
Based on a deep understanding of musical tradition, Wernick follows the lead of important musical innovators by fusing compatible sounds and building an original and entertaining set of sounds. The band has outlasted the skeptics and the audiences roar their approval!
“Exciting, intriguing… Delights at every turn. Superb composing and arranging.”
— Bluegrass Unlimited
“Fantastic acoustic music. Is it bluegrass? Dixieland? Bebop? Who knows? If you’ve ever felt your body move of its own accord when listening to any of these styles, you’ll like this.”
— Bluegrass Now
“I love it.”
— George Winston
“It’s fun, well-crafted, entertaining. Should appeal to anyone who enjoys hearing top-notch musicians strut their stuff.”
— Sing Out!
“One of the most exciting sounds I’ve heard this year.”
— Public News
“It works. Accessible, fundamentally futuristic music.”
— Knight-Ridder news wire
“My absolute favorite band. The most unique, the most creative.”
— Meredith Carson, Concert Director, Swallow Hill Music Association
“I love the way [FLEXIGRASS] blends bluegrass banjo into an early jazz band. A very appealing combination.”
— Béla Fleck
A joy to hear. An amazing accomplishment… Lights a real spark under bluegrass…”
“This was a SHOW. Magnificent music. A vastly entertained audience, a double encore and standing ovation said it all.”
— The Black Rose
“Wildly enjoyable instrumental music.”
— Pinecone Traditional Review
“They sound great.”
“Wernick, the masterful banjoist of Hot Rize fame, combined bluegrass with dixieland jazz to land the hippest sound. Action-packed.”
— Dirty Linen
“Truly great instrumental album. This one is the award winner.”
— Montreal Gazette
Up All Night
Pete Wernick’s Live Five, now known as Flexigrass
There’s never been a band like FLEXIGRASS! “Exciting, intriguing… Delights at every turn. Superb composing and arranging.”
14 cuts of the band’s exciting and surprising sounds, with seven original tunes, three live cuts, and three vocals, including “My Buddy” by Joan Wernick. Check out what the band does with two Earl Scruggs instrumentals (including “Foggy Mt. Breakdown”) and one by Benny Goodman!
Click here to read a fabulous review of “Up All Night”
Pete Wernick & Flexigrass
WHAT THE has the band’s best versions of its latest material. It has received outstanding rave reviews and Greg Carr’s outrageous cover won the IBMA Album Design award for 2008.
- Pete talks with KCFR on “Colorado Matters” about Flexigrass and What The
- View video from the album: Blue Train.
- Raves from all over!
Flexigrass is just one of many interesting names given to describe the unique sound of Pete Wernick & FLEXGRASS. Led by Bluegrass Grammy nominee “Dr. Banjo”, Pete Wernick, the band’s unique, supercharged sound is woven by all-stars from bluegrass and traditional jazz: Greg Harris(vibraphone), Bill Pontarelli (clarinet), Kris Ditson (drums), Roger Johns (bass), and Joan Wernick (featured vocalist).
In multiple appearances at major festivals from Merlefest (NC) to Winfield (KS) to Strawberry (CA) to Johnny Keenan (Ireland), FLEXIGRASS has thrilled audiences with its unparalleled blend of American music forms. Entertaining, original, high-energy. tradition-based — FLEXIGRASS makes musical waves!
Meet the Band
Pete Wernick (“Dr. Banjo”) has been described by Bluegrass Unlimited as “among the most creative and just plain fun musicians in (blue, new, jazz) grass.” FLEXIGRASS follows two other significant Wernick-organized bands: groundbreaking bluegrass instrumental wizards Country Cooking (1970-76), and the internationally acclaimed Hot Rize (full-time 1978-90 and still occasionally performing). He’s also been mentor to thousands with his music camps, best-selling books and videos, and from 1986 to 2001, President of the International Bluegrass Music Association. Pete’s blazing innovations have crossed back and forth over the borders of bluegrass, but fans can always count on his love of tradition, taste, and tone.
Joan Wernick adds to Flexigrass’ show with sparkling vocals and an irrepressible sense of fun. In solo vocals and duets with husband Pete, she expertly tackles everything from bluegrass to jazz, with audience-pleasing style.
Greg Harris‘ vibraphone, or “vibes”, gives a sweet-ringing texture to FLEXIGRASS. Both mellow and percussive, Greg’s mallets on brass achieve a rhythmic drive that thrills audiences. His background is in jazz, leading his own group and earning a Masters in Music, but he also plays bluegrass guitar. He recently returned from six months in Africa, studying a variety of mallet instruments. Greg is the newest addition to FLEXIGRASS, and stands 6’6″!
Bill Pontarelli swings and soars on flexigrass clarinet. Not many horn players have studied bluegrass fiddle players along with Benny Goodman, but Bill does it all. His lightning-quick lines and sophisticated ear add many exciting moments to FLEXIGRASS shows. A veteran of the Denver dixieland and swing music scenes, Bill helped found the Platte River Jazz Band. Amazing but true, Bill once bowled a 300 game!
Kris Ditson is possibly the world’s only drummer who thinks “bluegrass”. With brushes, a light touch, and a natural feel for the bluegrass beat, Kris has teamed with greats such as Andy Statman and Tony Trischka, and performed with a number of bluegrass bands including Jimmy Martin and the Sunny Mt. Boys. Kris’ easy smile and that floating pulse help keep FLEXIGRASS cooking!
Roger Johns brings formidable bass chops and an uncanny ear to the FLEXIGRASS blend. A mainstay among Denver’s traditional jazz artists, Roger’s extensive repertoire includes not just countless standards, but many fine antique jokes. Unfazed by the band’s demanding tempos, he blazes new trails with his solos, and keeps the group locked in with his strong, smooth tones.
Pete Wernick, known for his banjo playing with Hot Rize, and his singer-guitarist wife Joan present one of the West’s most engaging country duets. Joan’s clear, soulful singing and Pete’s masterful picking bring life to a diverse repertoire including traditional bluegrass, vocal duets and blazing instrumentals. In the early 70s the pair performed with the groundbreaking progressive bluegrass band Country Cooking, based in Ithaca, New York. Since 1976 they have lived in Niwot, Colorado in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
Since 1990 they have performed all over the continental US as well as England, Ireland, Russia, Hawaii, Israel, Holland, and recently on national TV in Denmark. They also work together in presenting Pete’s Bluegrass Camps at locations around the US.
Pete’s “Dr. Banjo” handle is based both on his banjo expertise and his Ph.D. in Sociology from Columbia University. He has been nominated for Banjo Player of the Year in national polls and is also known for his best-selling instruction videos and books, and his banjo and bluegrass camps since 1980. For 12 years he toured full-time with the much-lauded Hot Rize band, and continues to play a limited schedule with the long-lasting quartet and with his Flexigrass band which also features Joan’s vocals. Pete’s critically acclaimed solo album, “On a Roll”, received several award nominations and produced a #1 song, “Ruthie”.
Joan, also known to music fans as “Nondi”, has sung with various groups in Colorado and hosted a bluegrass radio show on KGNU Boulder since 1978. Her natural sparkle and the couple’s on-stage repartee adds an extra dimension to their duet performances. Bluegrass Now magazine said, “Joan’s singing is guaranteed to bring a smile to the face of any bluegrass traditionalist.”
Pete & Joan’s two shows on
WoodSongs Old Time Radio Hour:
This nationally syndicated show hosted by folksinger Michael Johnathon, has featured Pete and Joan twice, and is archived on the web, both as a TV (4 camera shoot) and radio show.
To watch or listen, view the WoodSongs archive here:
June, 2007 Pete & Joan with Monte Montgomery (show #442)
June, 2004 Pete & Joan with King Wilkie (show #311)
Click here for Stage Requirements.
Prefer by email (will give prompt reply): [email protected]
If urgent, call: 303-652-8346 (Mountain time)
7930-P Oxford Rd.
Niwot, CO 80503
or contact Pete directly via email at: [email protected]
Long Road Home is the freshest new entry to the Colorado bluegrass scene in a long while. Wherever they play, audiences are excited by their forceful yet polished approach to traditional bluegrass. A unique aspect is the band’s blend of three outstanding twenty-something musicians with “grizzled veterans” banjoist Pete Wernick (30+ years in Hot Rize) and bassist Gene (“Machine LeBass”) Libbea, 12-year member of the Grammy-winning Nashville Bluegrass Band.
The band was formed out of a jam session of like-minded youngsters at the 2005 Midwinter Bluegrass Festival in Denver, CO. The next year, they took first place in the Rockygrass Band Competition. In the fall of 2007, with the departure of three members, fiddler Justin Hoffenberg and lead singer/guitarist Martin Gilmore found themselves at a crossroads. They realized they had the opportunity to make the jump from a “good kid band” to a respected bluegrass act.
Libbea and Wernick were glad to be recruited into Long Road Home, and with the addition in 2008 of Tennessean Jordan Ramsey, RockyGrass Mandolin Champion, the band jelled into a tight unit. The group continues to create original material with an unconventional but decidedly traditional approach.
The band’s first album, recorded live, will be released in fall of 2009.
From Pete about Long Road Home and the new recording (quoted from The Blue Grass Blog, May 18, 2009):
“I’ve been playing with these guys for over a year now, and it gets more and more fun as it goes along. It’s an unusual band in that two of us are “older” (me and Gene Libbea), and the other three are in their 20s. We’re all very much on the same page about unmistakably tradition-based bluegrass. As with Hot Rize, we all play other kinds of music, but we know what straight bluegrass is, and that’s what the band is about. Here and there a bit of weirdness will sneak in, but that helps keep it interesting without disrupting the bluegrass feel. What we might lack in complexity we make up in intensity. Martin Gilmore, our lead singer, writes some fine songs and is a strong and soulful singer. Justin Hoffenberg is a righteous fiddle player with blazing tone, and Jordan Ramsey is a creative and hot picker, winner of the Rocky Grass mando contest last year. We have a lot of fun when we play. Gene’s attitude and his bass playing kick our butt!
The idea of a live recording is to capture the band’s energy. We use two mics and work them as needed. The site of the recording is the new headquarters of the famous Etown radio show, hosted by my Hot Rize buddy Nick Forster and his wife Helen. It’s a sweet venue in Boulder where Hot Rize recently played. It happens that Justin, fiddler in Long Road Home, is also the overseer of the Hot Rize live archive, with over 200 shows back to 1978, ten years before he was born. That’s kind of cool to me.”
Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers is a band that travels in the back of the Hot Rize bus and occasionally spells their employers on stage. The foursome (Red Knuckles, Wendell Mercantile, Waldo Otto, and Swade) plays 40’s and 50’s country as well as you might expect from people who have mostly listened to the same jukebox for most of their lives. That jukebox, at the Eat Cafe in Wyoming, Montana, is where Red and the boys first met Hot Rize and agreed to leave their home to pursue fortune and fame.
The “fortune” part notwithstanding, the ‘Blazers did become famous for their original brand of entertainment, featuring band choreography and Wendell’s “take-off” guitar with fringe to match his outfit. The band takes pride in offering for sale such products as Red Knuckles flyswatters, “I’m a Knucklehead” bumper stickers, and a hard-to-find song album, “Red Remembers the 60’s (In His Own Style)”.
If someone wants to buy Red Knuckles CDs or the DVD with them on it, or genuine Trailblazer bumper stickers or fly swatters, they can get them on hotrize.com.
There are people who say that Red Knuckles and Hot Rize are the same. No one knows where any of those people are now.
From the liner notes of Country Cooking’s 26 Bluegrass Instrumentals Album:
“Far from the southern heartland of bluegrass music, a full generation after the style took its classic form, a group of unknown urbanites from New York State made two albums which helped launch new direction in the music.
Built around the inventive harmony banjo arrangements of Tony Trischka and Pete Wernick, “Country Cooking” introduced a flood of original instrumentals and stylistic innovations at a time when recycling the classics was still standard practice.
Always aware of the subtle boundaries defining bluegrass music, the group progressed in two albums (recorded 1971 and 1972) from constantly staying just within the traditional rules, to boldly breaking them on occasion. Unexpected twists–whether in arrangements instrumentation, studio techniques, or tonaltiy–became their trademark. In 1975, a studio session yielded an underground extended play record under the name “The Extended Play Boys,” represented by several cuts on the group’s one re-issue CD, 26 Bluegrass Instrumentals.
All the musicians were in their early 20’s at the time of the first recordings, at the thresholds of musical careers which later blossomed in many forms.”
As a performing band, Country Cooking originally formed in 1970 in Ithaca, New York, playing both electrified country and bluegrass music featuring Pete Wernick and “Nondi” Leonard (later known as Joan Wernick) on lead vocals, and instrumentalists Tony Trischka (pedal steel guitar and banjo), Russ Barenberg (acoustic and electric guitar and mandolin) and John Miller (bass).
The opportunity for some of these musicians to record an all-instrumental album in 1971 for the fledgling Rounder Records resulted in the first album, Country Cooking, 14 Bluegrass Instrumentals. Assisting on the recording were Harry Gilmore (later known as Lou Martin), on mandolin, and Kenny Kosek on fiddle.
For the second album, Barrel of Fun, Gilmore was replaced by Andy Statman on mandolin and saxophone, and vocals by Wernick and Leonard were included. In 1974 the group recorded a popular play-along set of albums for Music Minus One featuring bluegrass standards played and sung in a traditional style. That same year the group re-formed with the departure of all but the Wernicks (now married) and the addition of guitarist Alan Senauke and mandolinist Howie Tarnower (“the Fiction Brothers”) and bassist Peggy Haine. A final album, Country Cooking with the Fiction Brothers was released in 1975. The group disbanded in 1976 with the Wernicks’ move to Colorado.